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Iran 'has made 4,000 centrifuges'

London Guardian | August 9, 2005

Iran has secretly manufactured around 4,000 centrifuges capable of weapons grade uranium enrichment - 25 times the quantity it has admitted to the UN, it was claimed today.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, an exiled Iranian dissident who in 2002 helped to uncover almost two decades of covert Iranian nuclear activity, said the centrifuges - rotating machines used in separation processes - were ready to be installed at Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz.

Mr Jafarzadeh, who runs Strategic Policy Consulting, a Washington-based thinktank focusing on Iran and Iraq, said the information - which he described as "very recent" - had come from sources within the Tehran regime that had proved to be accurate in the past.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is holding an emergency meeting on Iran later today, did not comment on the centrifuge allegations.

The UN's nuclear watchdog had previously said it was aware of the existence of 164 centrifuges at Natanz, which is 300 miles south of Tehran.

Under an agreement with the IAEA, Iran had pledged to stop building centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium to levels high enough to fuel a nuclear weapon.

Yesterday, Tehran said it would restart its nuclear programme. The move risks a showdown with the US, which wants Iran to be referred to the UN security council and economic sanctions imposed.

"These 4,000 centrifuge machines have not been declared to the IAEA, and the regime has kept the production of these machines hidden from the inspectors while the negotiations with the EU have been going on over the past 21 months," Mr Jafarzadeh told the Associated Press.

Centrifuges can also be used for the peaceful generation of nuclear energy, which Iran insists is its only intention. However, the US suspects Tehran of running a covert programme to produce nuclear weapons.

Mr Jafarzadeh said the centrifuges had been manufactured in Isfahan and Tehran, and that the construction of buildings, concrete foundations and other work needed to prepare the Natanz facility for centrifuge installation had continued over recent months.

He claimed Iran was making "extensive" use of front organisations or companies for the production and testing of centrifuge parts.

In 2002, Mr Jafarzadeh - then a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group - disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites, sparking fears over the country's nuclear intentions.

The IAEA's 35-nation board will assess Iran's latest nuclear activities later today, and diplomats said it could issue a formal warning to Tehran.

However, the board appeared unlikely to report Iran to the UN security council, which has the authority to impose economic or political sanctions on its regime.

"As of now, no one is talking about referral to the security council," a western diplomat close to the agency said. "It's at best going to be a warning - but even that is going to take a lot of hard negotiating."




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